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About a year ago, as I was finishing up my thesis for my MFA in Creative Writing, I had a stroke. A small thalamic stroke, they called it. It happened on the day my thesis was due; I think I’d just emailed it when I noticed I was feeling numb on the left side of my body. When I say numb, I don’t mean to the core. It was just my skin that was affected by a tiny pinhole of a stroke in the region of my brain that controls the sense of touch.
Is it coincidental that something erupted in my brain when I was writing about being molested as a kid? I think there’s a connection: my body finally said enough of this bullshit. After two years of dredging up childhood abuse, it was just time to stop. And so I have, for over a year. I was afraid of causing another stroke if I went back to revise, even if I was balancing it out with all the good in my life. The brain is the one thing in my body that I don’t have a handle on –a stroke isn’t like getting period cramps or even a headache. That sucker hits you with no warning, not even a pop to let you know a blood vessel’s awry.
I have two symptoms that remind me of the stroke: the ball of my left foot feels like it’s asleep, and the left side of my gut has what feels like a brick in it. That brick is my barometer for stress. Most days it’s a faint sensation, but when I’m feeling any kind of stress, the heavy feeling comes back full force.
I’m a little jittery about writing. I wonder if I can trick my brain into thinking I’m writing about someone else, or if I can pull back enough to be able to view events from a distance—and it is a distance, of years. Writing it, though, makes it immediate. I have no trick for creating psychic space, but I’m hoping that this year off has worked some time-magic and I’ll find the psychic safety net is already there.
Here’s to the brick in my gut.
I feel like a brick hanging in the air about this NaNoWriMo thing. Or maybe I feel like NaNo’s hanging over my head like a brick. ugh. One key at a time, eh.
I’m listening to Hazmat Modine, an indy blues/jazz group that makes me think of New Orleans. I normally have earplugs in when I write because it takes so little to distract me, but Hazmat Modine is somehow unobtrusive. I have Dry Spell on repeat:
I found a letter from my mother dated April 12, 1989. The date meant nothing at first read, then I read, “No, I don’t think your father will ‘go to hell’ (grin)” and I remembered that my father died in early April of ’89. I’m not sure why I would have asked Mama if I thought he was going to hell. I was sure of it.
She further writes, “I think, rather, that he will be busy learning differences in the types of love that there is. I believe that he is just fine. Instead my concern lies in anyone who could see what happened to him and yet continue to surrender to those forces that shaped his unhappiness.”
This—and the rest of the letter—makes me nuts. I’m incensed that she wrote about him learning different types of love (I sneer here) when she knew what he did to me. It’s a crap thing to say to a daughter who felt the ‘love’ from that man. And the letter sounds so…reasonable, even with its roundabout finger-pointing at Dad’s mother , the mild terminology (Dad wasn’t unhappy; he was miserable,) and the complete lack of acknowledgement of my truth.
She writes, “Sometimes people make choices, act a certain way, do certain things for unacknowledged ends. They live by and within a set of rules with the expectation that their compliance will ensure a set outcome, whether it is money or returned affection or a gathering of objects or maybe the fending off of loneliness. Perhaps it is a combination of all these things. Then, after years of minor and sometimes major compromises, the person doesn’t get whatever it is that he or she “purchased” with the prescribed actions. What then? Maybe the person interpreted the “rules” incorrectly, maybe something else—but the changes in the person are accomplished anyway, the goal is unattainable, and the perceptions of the person are so altered by the day to day compromises that he or she has forgotten the rules of living according to inner clarity. A fine mess. Oh, well, I guess it is pointless to say any more on this. (smile)”
Actually, it’s brilliant.
And I’ve re-read the paragraph before her comment about Dad learning about different types of love. I’m busted again—I still skim my mother’s letters because they’re so hard, so painful, to read word for word. She writes, “I’ve been reading about incest…and…the conclusion I’ve come to is that there seems to be many kinds of incest, not all of them physical. Perhaps it can all be crystallized into the concept of a failure to love, or a failure to understand the nature of love—how to love—“
This makes her no-hell comment less inflammatory, but I’m still angry. Part of it is that I want to be, I think, but I’m also puzzled/peeved that she was reading about incest 25 years after the fact, and she spoke so dispassionately of the matter, like it had never touched her. Like I was a friend she was counseling. Gag me, ok.
Finding this letter is a blessing. It’s opened a vein, not of gold but of molten lava that I’ve tried for years to access. I’ve been unable to feel anything other than baffled grief regarding my mother, and I’ve known that it was superficial, that mere pain didn’t do justice to either of us.
I miss —having a mother. And sometimes I miss her.
Apparently it was of catastrophic importance that I clean house today. After waking at 3:59am thanks to booming music from the neighbors, I cast a bleary eye at the kitchen and must have made a subliminal decision to clean because that’s what’s I’ve done a good deal of the day. (I went back to bed at 4:15, although my neighbors did not. Music went off at 5:38am.)
I have not written for three days; I’ve been stuck. This is ironic, given that I’m revising one work, and the other’s been in my head for a couple of years. I just —sit.
Here at the keyboard, my muse hibernates, yet manages to throw shiny distractions out. Okay, so it’s not my muse doing that. It’s a little demon called perfectionism. That thing made me get up yesterday and go for a WALK, which otherwise would be good medicine, but it was procrastination at its finest. I can rationalize a walk, and cleaning house, even sleeping. I’m an expert.
F.E.A.R. Tony Robbins states that this is False Evidence Appearing Real. So I must ferret out what scares me the most and call it what it is: a ghost. No, not a ghost; they scare me, too. What’s not scary? I could follow Sandler’s Water Boy visualization of babies, but that’s just not for me.
A scarf isn’t scary. And it’s silly enough to make me giggle.
Oh. God, now I’m delirious. Please, just let me write. Even if it sucks.
So, once more into the fray. I’d really like to have something of note to report on Day 7.
…a tiny preview to those who’ve read my rough draft–here’s how I’ve begun revising my memoir. It’s rough, but I like the tone.
What I’d like to give my readers is hope—the kind that sneaks up on you when you’re doing the dishes or taking the kids to school or petting your cat: it shimmers in your chest for a moment and suddenly you realize that you’re going to be okay. That’s how it happened for me.
I was driving home from a therapy appointment in 1995, belting out Comfortably Numb when I had to pull over because I had a sensory flashback of the night my father took my virginity while I was sleeping. Out of nowhere, my vagina’s on fire.
I park by the side of the road, music off now, and I’m trying not to hyperventilate while I do a panicky, improvised Lamaze breathing–because, hell, that’s how you treat pain down there, right?
But my lips start tingling, so I shut off the car and get out.
The heat hits me like the backdraft of a bomb, and I forget about the pain in my crotch. The pavement cooks my feet through the soles of my sandals as I hurry to the grass beyond the sidewalk.
Off with my shoes, and I’m standing barefoot in the skinny shade of a palm tree, and another more recent memory sweeps in. My sons, playing naked in the slimy thick mud in the front yard. Their bodies caked and splattered, hair spiky with it. Happy. Me, too, watching them, then, and now. Happy.
Another feeling, one I can’t identify, is in my chest and it hurts a little. At first I think it’s sadness, which would make sense, given that I’ve just pulled over to quell a horrible memory. But no, I’m feeling something good, and the closest I can get to naming it is contentment.
Today, 16+ years later, I have a different name for it: hope.
That was when I saw that now is more powerful than the past.
Now is my gift. It’s mine, every tiny second of it.
The flashbacks are like rips in time’s fabric: sometimes I slip through. But the beauty lies in the weave: I never fall without being able to grab the threads of now.
Last night I taught and when I got home at 11 I had no braincells, so Day 1 was a wash. I see panic in my peripheral vision–well, and that’s kind of silly, given that I’ve set this goal myself, but nonetheless, that shadow’s creeping me out.
I’m a NaNoRebel, which makes me think of Mork and flying eggs. (NaNoRebels are those writers doing the NaNo challenge who aren’t following the rules. ) Of course I’m in this group. But the alternative is not to join, and that is unacceptable.
Tonight I write.
Tomorrow I’ll sleep.